Six new apprenticeship providers have been barred from taking on new apprentices after early monitoring visits found them to be making ‘insufficient progress’, the Education and Skills Agency has confirmed.

The penalties are revealed in the latest update to the register of apprenticeship training providers, dated September 10, which now includes a column titled ‘provider not currently starting new apprentices’.

They are the first evidence of formal action taken by the agency after its policy was updated last month to give Ofsted the final say over poor performing providers, following embarrassment for the government earlier this year over apprenticeship accountability.

All six providers were found to making ‘insufficient progress’ in at least one of the themes under review.

They include Key6 Group, whose apprenticeship provision was deemed “not fit for purpose” in the first monitoring visit report published on March 15.

Despite being found to be making ‘insufficient progress’ in all areas, Key6 was only suspended from taking on new apprentices for two months.

A Department for Education spokesperson told FE Week in May that it had had its suspension listed in April “after it provided a robust improvement plan”.

That revelation prompted dismay at mixed messages from the ESFA, and led to embarrassment for the government earlier this year.

During an education select committee hearing in May skills minister Anne Milton admitted that it wasn’t clear who was accountable for quality at these new providers.

Later that month FE Week exclusively revealed that Ofsted was set to be given the final word over apprenticeship quality, along with extra cash to carry out more early monitoring visits.

The policy changed was finally confirmed last month, when the ESFA updated its guidance on removal from the register of apprenticeship training providers.

That confirmed that any provider making ‘insufficient progress’ in at least one of the themes under review will be barred from taking on any new apprentices – either directly or through a subcontracting arrangement.

These restrictions will remain in place until the provider has received a full inspection and been awarded at least a grade three for its apprenticeship provision.

The ESFA can only overrule this guidance if it “identifies an exceptional extenuating circumstance”.

Since the new guidance was published a number of providers have received ‘insufficient progress’ verdicts in monitoring visit reports – including three last week.

In each case, the DfE has not confirmed what action it is taking against the provider, and has instead said it is “currently reviewing” the report findings and would “write to the providers about the next steps shortly”.

Ofsted’s early monitoring visits, announced by chief inspector Amanda Spielman last November, were intended to sniff out “scandalous” attempts to waste public money.

Their introduction is believed to be a result of growing concerns around the number of untested training providers that had made it onto the register, and which therefore had access to huge sums of public money.

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